Join or Sign In

Register for your free ZDNet membership or if you are already a member, sign in using your preferred method below.

Use your email Use Linkedin Use Facebook

Kobo Aura H2O hands-on: Waterproof, big screen, and well lit ebook reader

Kobo is the first to launch an ebook reader with waterproof capability and that adds peace of mind for reading when you are close to or in water.

Topic: Mobility
1 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Kobo Aura H2O retail package and contents

There are still many valid reasons to use a dedicated ebook reader and one issue Amazon has yet to address is making a reader waterproof for . Kobo has a product for these environments and I was able to spend a week with the Kobo Aura H2O.

I did not have the chance to take it to the beach, but I did test it in my new large tub. Don't worry, I took photos of the Kobo by itself in the tub since I really do not want to lose readers.


Kobo has always made rather compelling ebook readers and in the past I owned a couple of them. The Kobo Aura H2O is larger than most I have used due to the 6.8 inch Carta eInk HD touch screen display with a resolution of 1430 x 1080 and 265 dpi. Text looks fantastic on the H2O and I do appreciate seeing more of my book content on the big display.

A single button is located on the top of the Kobo to turn the display on and back into standby. The lower bezel is about an inch wide, which is great for holding the ebook reader in one hand and resting your thumb on the bottom.

As you can see in my photos, the back has a couple of unique angles which is something we have seen from them in the past as well. I believe it is designed to help you hold the device better and the angled sides of the back do tend to serve as a finger guide.

The display is inset around the frame more than you see on other ebook readers, due to the immersion support and ComfortLight technology. ComfortLight is designed to diffuse light across the page rather than providing a backlit solution like other readers. Reading in bed at night was a very pleasant experience and I highly recommend bed readers pick up an ebook reader with integrated backlight.

Kobo states that the H2O is IP67 certified to support full immersion in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It is also dustproof and sandproof, perfect for the beach, bath, or bed.

The only thing you must do to maintain the waterproof integrity is make sure the bottom access door is fully closed. Under the access door you will find the microSD card slot and microUSB charging port. You can noticeably feel the rubber seal seating itself when you push the access door closed.

Other key specifications include 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, 1GHz processor, 4GB of onboard storage with a microSD card slot, battery life of up to two months, and support for 10 fonts in 24 sizes.


The Kobo Aura H2O is very easy to use and similar to the other Kobo readers I have tested before. The home button is at the top of the display with the brightness slider, WiFi connection status indicator, battery indicator, and menu button to quickly get to search or the full settings menu.

The full settings menu is where you will setup account sync, your wi-fi connection, sleep and power settings, reading settings (including how you turn pages and water detection prompt), library settings, and a host of beta features. Beta features include some games (chess, sudoku, unblock it, solitaire, and word scramble) and a web browser.

Controls along the bottom include navigation within the book, font settings, Reading Life stats, Beyond the Book button, and other quick options such as annotations, search, dictionary, and more.

Reading Life is an informative tool that gives you stats on time remaining in the chapter, how long to finish the next chapter, and how long to finish the book. The Beyond the Book option provides you with web articles, related books, and authors that are related to the words you select.

The home screen provides you with a view of your library, quick access to the store, recommended books, and total reading stats. I also like that Pocket is integrated on the Kobo so all of those websites you clip with Pocket can now be read at your leisure on an ebook reader.

The Kobo library includes over four million titles (books, magazines, and comic books) and the 4GB of memory means you can carry something like 3,000 books at once, which is way more than anyone could ever practically need loaded at one time. Kobo also supports EPUB and PDF so you can bring over lots of other content outside of their store as well. There are also apps for all the mobile operating systems in case you do not have the Kobo Aura H2O along with you at all times.

Daily experiences

My house has a nice new tub and it is quite relaxing to jump in a couple times a month. I always take my Kindle along with a towel to keep it dried off and a hope that I do not fall asleep and drop my Kindle in the tub. I also take my Kindle with me on vacation and enjoy reading by the pool. Thus, I am probably a perfect candidate for the Kobo Aura H2O.

I have always liked the Kobo software and since I have been reading ebooks for more than 10 years I have quite a collection of non-DRM EPUB content.

The backlight worked very well and it was a joy to read with the Aura H2O in bed at night and on the train commute to and from work. The H2O is a bit wide, but still fits in one hand so I can control the touchscreen with my other hand.

It is way too early to comment on battery life as these eInk devices last for months between charging.

The display is crisp and clear, page turning works well, and the peace of mind with the waterproof technology is something to consider.

Price and availability

You can pre-order the Kobo Aura H20 today for $179.99 with the device scheduled to start shipping on 29 September.

There is no other competition in the ebook space that has a waterproof reader so if you think you may find yourself wanting to read in a possible wet environment then you should consider the Kobo Aura H2O.

2 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Opening up the retail package

3 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Note the stealthy angle on the back of the Aura H2O

4 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Bottom port cover that must be closed to stay waterproof

5 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Back of Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Aura H2O

6 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Front of Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Aura H2O

7 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Kobo Aura H2O taking a bath

8 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Water droplets on the display of the Kobo Aura H2O

9 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Top display options

10 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Bottom icons

11 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

There are plenty of font and margin choices available

12 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Reading Life stats

13 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Use the keyboard to enter search terms

14 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

You control how to turn the pages

15 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

The home screen gives you access to content

Related Galleries

Incipio Grip and Kate Spade cases for Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Fold 3: Stylish drop protection

Related Galleries

Incipio Grip and Kate Spade cases for Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Fold 3: Stylish drop protection

ZAGG Gear4 Bridgetown case for Samsung Z Fold 3 and Flip 3: D3O drop protection

Related Galleries

ZAGG Gear4 Bridgetown case for Samsung Z Fold 3 and Flip 3: D3O drop protection

First look: iPhone 13 Apple event [in pictures]

Related Galleries

First look: iPhone 13 Apple event [in pictures]

First Look: Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 3 [pictures]

Related Galleries

First Look: Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 3 [pictures]

Working with the Cat S62 Pro and its thermal imaging camera

Related Galleries

Working with the Cat S62 Pro and its thermal imaging camera

Google Pixel Buds A Series review: in pictures

Related Galleries

Google Pixel Buds A Series review: in pictures

Nomad Rugged Leather Moment case: MagSafe, 10-foot protection, and advanced lens support

Related Galleries

Nomad Rugged Leather Moment case: MagSafe, 10-foot protection, and advanced lens support